Photo: Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict XVI said here Wednesday that he decided to resign the papacy “in full freedom for the good of the Church.”
The pope made this statement at the start of his regular Wednesday audience, his first public appearance since announcing that he will step down Feb. 28 due to his advanced age and declining strength.
“Dear brothers and sisters, as you know, I have decided to resign the ministry that the Lord entrusted to me on April 19, 2005. I did it in full freedom for the good of the Church after having prayed at length and after examining my conscience before God,” said the pontiff before some 10,000 faithful who filled the Paul VI Audience Hall at The Vatican.
The throng responded to his words with a huge ovation.
The pope will leave The Holy See on Feb. 28 at 5 a.m., three hours before his resignation of the papacy takes effect, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.
The pontiff will travel by helicopter to the residence of the popes at Castel Gandolfo, some 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) south of Rome.
He will remain there until the restoration work on the convent inside Vatican City, where he plans to live in retirement, is completed.
Lombardi also said that there will be no special ceremony at the time when Benedict’s resignation goes into effect.
The Vatican spokesman went on to say that the conclave of cardinals tasked with electing a new pope will begin between March 15 and March 20.
Vatican regulations establish that the conclave of cardinals must begin between 15 and 20 days after the death or resignation of a pope.
A total of 117 cardinals are eligible to take part in the conclave in the Sistine Chapel.